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How to write a case study

Data from the latest CMI content marketing report show that case studies are a popular and effective content marketing tool for B2B brands.

We take a two-pronged approach to writing a case study:

  1. Construct an intellectual infrastructure
  2. Create the case content

Here's how it works.

Case Study Writing Tips

A nifty picture of the Content-Purpose-Audience Strategy

Click image for larger view.

1. Construct the Intellectual Infrastructure

We use the Content-Purpose-Audience Strategy™ to nail down important specifics before getting into the details. Think of it as a case study template for pre-writing.

Audience: We describe the audience in detail and list the top 5 or so questions, objections or concerns they have about the topic (based on research or background knowledge). We also determine a tone of voice that will resonate with them.

Content: Then we get to the ideas. What's the most important take-away we want the audience to retain after they read the case study? This is the main idea you want to convey. Then we create a few key details that support the main idea and address some/all of the questions, objections and concerns. This is a short list -- 5 max. Creating the key points with both our message (the main idea) and the audience's information needs increases relevance for the reader.

Purpose: Finally, we quantify what we want the audience the think, feel and do after reading. This includes both the explicit call to action to click, call, whatever, along with perceptions and feelings we want to instill. We quickly revisit the voice and the key details to make sure the content leads to these results. If not, we quickly revise.

The process works because it covers all the big issues right up front before we invest time in researching and writing the case. And because we deliberately consider the audience and results in advance, the resulting case study is far more likely to be on-target.

Download the Content-Purpose-Audience worksheet or a brief with more detailed instructions on using the strategy.

2. Create the case content

Next, we create the case content that reflects the insights captured in the C-P-A.

Format: Case studies follow a few well-established patterns: Problem-Solution, Misconception-Reality, Challenge-Results. Choose the one that best suits your topic and your audience. Then choose a formula. The traditional narrative formula's great, but you can also structure cases as Q&As (written, video or podcast) or infographics. Again, select a format that showcases your information most effectively. Bonus tip: Create a case study template for the pattern(s) you use most. 

Information: Remember case studies are real-life examples of results--how your product or service solved a problem, filled a need, etc.--so readers expect concrete details no matter what format you choose. Increase trustworthiness and authenticity with data points and direct quotes from customers, respected third-parties or independent subject-matter experts. Because people have different information requirements, use a mix of evidence (data), explanations and examples (the 3 E's). Learn more about using the 3 E's for content marketing.

Focus: As you research and write, refer to the C-P-A to make sure you're staying on track. We often use the key details as an outline of sorts to guide information-gathering and writing, and use the "do" to construct the conclusion and call to action. We often submit the C-P-A when we turn in the case study, to remind reviewers of the context in which we're writing.

Next time you're tasked with writing a case study, try this approach for faster production and more targeted results.

Case study examples

Here are a couple of cases we've produced using this process:

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